Bottle thrown into the ocean near Hartley Bay gives clues into behaviour of oil spills

The bottle, found by a child on a Sandspit beach, is one of 500 chucked overboard from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation research vessel Achiever, off Hartley Bay. It had travelled 100 nautical miles in 65 days.

The drift bottles are part of a decade-old Department of Fisheries and Oceans project to better understand currents.

“By putting objects in the water to see where they go, we can better understand the ocean along a very, very complicated coastline,” said Ed Cormack, a research scientist with DFO’s Institute of Ocean Sciences.

Ocean currents form pathways across the globe, and everything from fish larvae and animals to pollutants and oil travel along those currents, he said.

“We are really just a bottle toss away from someone thousands and thousands of miles across the sea,” Cormack said.

Students from Hartley Bay — who threw the bottles into the ocean close to where the Queen of the North ferry sank — and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation want the current data to help understand how far tentacles of an oil spill could reach.

Debate is ongoing about a proposed pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat, with crude oil then shipped through northern Vancouver Island waters on supertankers.

Ernie Hill, principal of Hartley Bay school and a Gitga’at First Nation hereditary chief, said the students have a personal connection with the drift bottle project because of their experience with oil from the Queen of the North.

“I grew up in the area and I thought I knew all about the currents, but when the Queen of the North went down, everyone was flabbergasted by the direction of the oil. It contaminated our best clam beds,” he said.

“That’s incredible that the bottle was found in Sandspit. I didn’t think it would be that way.”

However, Cormack said, based on previous experiments, it is not surprising the bottle was found on Haida Gwaii as currents tend to move north from Vancouver Island, through the Arctic to the Atlantic.

It shows how the oceans are interconnected, he said. “And it adds to our knowledge of what we should be prepared for.”

A motion calling for a ban on oil tankers in northern Vancouver Island waters goes to a vote in the House of Commons today.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.